Bookshelf: Ideas for Secondary School Teachers, with a Bent Toward the Digital

In each of the last two academic years, I’ve made short lists of books I’ve liked, related mostly (but not exclusively) to secondary education and the digital world, to share with the faculty of Phillips Academy.  We buy a stack of each of the books, placed on the shelf outside my office, and share them as “community reads.”  This list — admittedly eclectic — covers those past two installments, plus a few additional books that have been in circulation on our campus for various reasons.

Fall, 2013 List:

Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Delacorte, 2013)

Why I liked it: I am huge fan of Prof. Banaji’s and her research into our inherent biases.  The book is a public-facing version of the research she’s published for years.  Especially in intentionally diverse communities, such as schools and universities, it’s my firm view that we all have to be aware of our biases, which can come as a big surprise sometimes, as Banaji and her co-author make clear.

Andrew Delbanco, College: What is Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton, 2012)

Why I liked it: I am also a fan of Prof. Delbanco’s and his work on American history and literature (dating back to when he taught American studies at Harvard, and through his exciting work at Columbia).  Here, he turns to the broad, public issue of what college ought to be.  His frame of reference is, in many respects, “the traditional four-year college experience” that looms in the imagination — probably in our students’ imagination, too.  Familiar themes of the history and importance of the Pell grant come together with perhaps less familiar themes of the continuing Puritan influence on our communities of learners.

Theodore Sizer, The New American High School (Jossey-Bass, 2013)

Why I liked it: Theodore Sizer is a giant in 20th century educational theory and practice — and also served as Phillips Academy’s distinguished 12th head of school.  Nancy Faust Sizer, who wrote the introduction, sent me an early copy, and I hugely enjoyed reading it.  Ted Sizer wrote this book and nearly published it before his death; Nancy and their editor brought it to fruition just recently.  For those who have read the Horace trilogy, The Students Are Watching Us, The Red Pencil, and other Sizer works, much in this new synthesis will sound familiar and enriching; for those who have not, especially those new to Sizer’s ideas in general, it is a great introduction to his life’s work, which continues to have reverberations through our Academy today.  (I have in mind a present-day Andover update to the short chapter, the ninth, on Technology.)

Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Harper, 2007)

Why I liked it: This book came out several years ago, and I’ve been meaning to read it since then; I finally managed it this summer.  It’s an amazing synthesis of hundreds of studies of how the brain works, especially with respect to reading, by a Tufts prof, Maryanne Wolf, who specializes in early childhood education.  I learned an enormous amount from Wolf’s book, in terms of history, practice, and neuroscientific findings.  The emphasis falls on younger kids than ours, but the implications for our student body are clear — especially for those students who start out with less in terms of parents reading to them, encouraging them to read, and so forth at an early age.

Paul Yoon, Snow Hunters (Simon & Shuster, 2013)

Why I liked it: How could I not?  Paul Yoon, this year’s writer-in-residence at Phillips Academy, has written a brand-new, engaging, beautifully crafted novel.  I wished it had gone on much longer!  (For those who want to keep reading beyond the end of Snow Hunters, Paul’s first book, Once the Shore, is a collection of eight exquisite stories.)  His recent positive NYTimes Book Review piece, along with much else in the way of positive critical review, have been well-earned.

Leonard Sax, Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls (Basic Books, 2011)

Why I liked it: “Liked” in a way is the wrong word — this is a hard book, on a hard topic — but Dr. Sax has written an effective, constructive, important look at a large segment of our population in a boarding school, and it’s relevant to our entire population here.  I especially recommend it for those working in a girls’ dorm or coaching a girls’ team, though I think everyone in a residential learning community would benefit from reading it.

Catherine Steiner-Adair: The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper, 2013)

Why I liked it: Catherine Steiner-Adair is a former colleague of ours at Phillips Academy, as school psychologist (which she references on p. 253!).  Her new book is a helpful contribution to the literature about parenting and kids growing up in a digital era, with emphasis on social and family relationships.  (Steiner-Adair is already booked as a speaker for “Wellness Week” later in our academic year at Phillips Academy.)

Ethan Zuckerman: Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection (Norton, 2013)

Why I liked it: This book is a wonderful look at the implications of the digital age, from a global perspective.  Ethan Zuckerman is a former colleague of mine at the Berkman Center, now on the faculty at MIT, and is one of the finest minds in my field (and one of the finest people you’ll ever meet).  He’s worked on this book for years, and his devotion has paid off, in the form of both many new insights and lots of great narratives about life as a “digital cosmopolitan.”  (I admit, it’s not as obvious fit on this list for secondary school teachers, but I couldn’t help myself — and I really do think any teacher will get a lot from it in terms of what we should be aspiring to do in teaching about global citizenship, ethics, and morality in the biggest sense of the terms.)  See @ethanz just about everywhere, including Twitter.

Spring, 2013 List:

Cathy Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century (Penguin, 2012)

Why I liked it: Lots of great material about how learning happens, from a brain science and generally interdisciplinary point of view.  Among many other things, she puts Katie Salen’s work — which we examined last year at PA and continue to follow — in context, p. 87 ff.  Cathy’s work is controversial and provocative — in a very good way.  If you ever have a chance to hear her present, take it!

Steven Johnson, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age (Riverhead, 2012)

Why I liked it: The furthest afield from education per se of the books on this list, but it’s a great theoretical look at the importance of networks and network design.  Consider his argument about the capacity for reinvention, p. 119, ff.  Steven is a clever, concise writer — and everything he’s published is worth thinking about, in my experience.  The book is beautifully written and concise; secondary school teachers will likely get an interesting perspective on the future from it.

Salman Khan, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined (Twelve, 2012)

Why I liked it:  If you think you know Sal Khan and Khan Academy based on what you’ve seen on his web site, think again.  This is a very impressive, thoughtful book, about education broadly conceived.  His ideas and recommendations encompass his core work of “putting great short videos and exercises on the web for millions of people to use” (which is, itself, very cool) and extend far beyond it.  Sal and his team are pretty amazing — we at PA are actively collaborating with them on, which has been incredibly interesting — and I think very well of his new book.

Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (Scribner, 2012)

Why I liked it: I’m generally a big fan of Tony’s work, so I was not surprised to like this new book.  Along with his book on the Global Achievement Gap, this book leans forward and into lots of important trends and opportunities in education.  I liked Chapter 5: Innovating Learning in particular.  Though it may be more focused on higher ed than on the secondary school environment, he applies lessons from terrific learning institutions, like the MIT Media Lab (pp. 181-4), to teaching and learning more broadly.

A few more, to close out this list:

Here are a last few that many of us read on the Phillips Academy campus, on related themes and in various contexts:

David Burstein, Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World (Beacon, 2013)

Why I liked it: This book is an updated look at many of the issues that Urs Gasser and I took up in Born Digital, by a young and insightful author.)

Clay Christensen et al., Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw-Hill, 2008)

Why I liked it: Whether you agree with the conclusions or not, this book is a must-read for anyone thinking about education and business models — which should be all of us interested in the future of teaching, learning, the profession, and the related institutions.)

Beth Coleman, Hello Avatar: The Rise of the Networked Generation (MIT Press, 2011)

Why I liked it: I loved this creative, expansive book about personhood and identity in a digital age, by a prof and researcher I much admire, on MIT Press’s cool list of books in this field.

Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006) 

Why I liked it: Prof. Dweck’s work continues to inspire about how to encourage young people as learners, especially those who are smart and need to focus on a “growth mindset” rather than to rest of the laurels of their natural gifts and socio-economic advantages.

Shamus Khan, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton, 2012)

Why I liked it: The issues that this book takes up are hard, especially in schools with long and proud histories.  Again in the “whether or not you agree” category — and this book evokes strong feelings — this first-person account, and associated reflections, by Prof. Khan of his experience at St. Paul’s School has caught the attention of both students and faculty in various courses and contexts.  It has been a big conversation-starter about community, race, class, and other big themes in residential secondary schools.

Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Norton, 2011)

Why I liked it: At PA, a group of faculty assigned this book as the “community read” last summer, to tee up our first faculty meeting on stereotype threat.  The book worked extremely well as a scene-setter for a conversation that continues to lead to policy-changes and discussions about how we teach and learn.

S. Craig Watkins, The Young & The Digital: What the Migration to Social-Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for our Future (Beacon, 2009)

Why I liked it: Prof. Watkins brings great insight to the challenges and opportunities of growing up in a digital era; his work is much worth following in general, and this book is highly enjoyable in particular.

Book Experiment #1: Intellectual Property Strategy as an iPad App (or, reply to Cody Brown)

With big thanks to MIT Press and a terrific group of colleagues, I’m delighted to report that the iPad app version of my new book, Intellectual Property Strategy, is now approved and available in the App Store.  (To find it, click here or search on “Intellectual Property Strategy” within the App Store on your iPad.)

The book is now available in multiple formats, several of which are conventional and one of which is experimental.  First, Intellectual Property Strategy is available as an ordinary, printed text which can be read without a computing device or electricity.  I would guess that this traditional form of the book may well be the primary way that most readers will interact with it.  The printed book is a wonderful technology, which still works extremely well for most people in most instances.  Second, the book can be read in its Kindle edition, which is little more — at this stage — than a digital form of the printed book.  (As an aside: I’ve been having a great time reading on the Kindle app on my iPad and then sharing little phrases on Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon.com.  These social features are a lot of fun — and represent the best Kindle development to date, in my view.)  Third, on the MIT Press web page for the book, a reader can find a few chapters freely available plus additional resources, which can be accessed for free.  These additional resources take the form of a series of in-depth case studies and videos of Intellectual Property experts, who comment on issues that I address in the book.  There is nothing all that experimental about these first three versions of the book.

The iPad app is the experimental form.   When I was about half-way through the book-writing process (with help from my great editor Marguerite Avery and library colleague June Casey), 21-year-old Cody Brown published a post in TechCrunch.  “Dear Authors,” Cody began, by way of the title, “your next book should be an app, not an iBook.”  I’d had a similar thought: what if we thought about this book as an application, rather than a traditional book.  What could be different?  Around this same time, I also bought NONOBJECT, another iPad app published by MIT Press, and it got me thinking about the possibilities.

Well, a fair amount is different.  In the iPad app version, a reader can use a series of cool navigation features that Aaron Zinman, the creative app developer who built it, dreamed up and coded into the app.  The book has many more links than a first-generation iBook/eBook.  The links take you to three types of places: 1) within the book itself, to the glossary and back, for instance; 2) with the extended-play version of the book, such as the case studies, which don’t appear in the printed book; and 3) out to the open web, where I link out to web sites and other resources.  If a reader follows a link out to the open web, then they are free to keep going, much as a web surfer would.  I hope they’d return to my primary text, but even if they don’t, this is a risk worth running, in my view.

What’s most “different” about the iPad app version of the book is that it has embedded in it a series of videos.  I interviewed a group of scholars who know a great deal about IP — much more than me, in the aggregate, and individually, too — and recorded the interviews on video.  With the help of colleagues, I’ve included snippets of these videos into the text of the book.  That way, a reader can hear from scholars other than me about the issues I’m taking up in the text as they are reading through it.  These video snippets can also lead the reader to the longer forms of the interviews, as long as 30 minutes, if they’d like.

Back to Cody Brown’s TechCrunch piece.  This iPad app takes the book form from A -> C, not A -> M, much less A -> Z.  There’s much more that one could do, with non-linear pathways through the text, the gamelike qualities that Cody suggests, the ability to edit the primary text.  These are still possible, left on the table for another experiment.  I look forward to working on some of these next-stage experiments in future projects.

A special note to libraries, and especially those interested in digital preservation: this iPad app version of the book leads to a curious question about preservation.  Libraries are great at preserving the physical forms of books.  Libraries are beginning to get smart about preserving simple digital formats — flat html files, for instance, and audio and video files.  But an iPad app?  In its integrated form, the iPad app is a tricky thing to preserve, I’d guess.  If Cody Brown’s challenge (and other similar thinking) leads to more experimentation, our preservation activities will have to get creative very quickly or we will lose the record of these early efforts.  Puts me in mind of the challenge to librarians posed by Nicholson Baker in his controversial book, Doublefold, along similar lines — only more than a decade ago.  How might we, as libraries, partner with Apple, for instance, to ensure that there’s a preservation process for these books?  Or with Internet Archive, which has done such an amazing job with the open web itself?

Also: I call this post “Book Experiment #1,” not because others haven’t experimented already in much more profound ways, but only because I’ve planned out two more posts to come — Book Experiments #2 and #3, to come shortly on this blog.